Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chapter 5 of My Accursed Novel


It had only been a two months since he had seen Maureen, but to Clark it felt much longer. It was almost as if she had never been there at all, that she had been an apparition, or a character from a movie. Perhaps he had fallen asleep and dreamed all these situations and Maureen had never really existed at all, except as a specter, a composite of all the girls he had dated in college.

Couples were still difficult. Maureen felt guilty more than lonely. Maybe it was childish of her to have run off like that. She had a difficult time justifying it rationally, even though she knew it was what she had to do. It probably seemed like another one of her melodramatic scenes to Clark, but to Maureen, it was the least melodramatic thing she could do. She couldn’t continue the fighting. It wasn’t fair to Clark, and she didn’t feel she had the strength for it anymore. Surely he knew she just needed to get away, “clear her head.” Old hippie that he was, surely he understood. Besides, Clark was settled. Once Maureen felt ready, she knew she could go home and explain it all to him. They could work it out, if they wanted to.

West of Burlington Iowa and south of Des Moines is a Fairfield, a small town of about 10,000, home to the Maharishi International University,with its Golden Domes of Enlightenment, a name which could not help but inspire giggles from Maureen every time she heard it, and in which yogic flying was taught as part of the TM curriculum.

Fairfield sounds like a relatively unassuming little midwest town, full of Main Streets and Court Streets and Broadway of course. Like many farming communities, its economy struggled throughout the 1980s. By the early 90s, if not sooner, it was a hotbed of new age activities, full of vegetarian restaurants and proliferation of Ayur-Vedic clinics. In the 1990s, John Hagelin of the Natural Law Party, a new age quantum physicist began what would become a perpetual run for US President, like Ralph Nader the celebrity consumer advaocate for the Greens and Gus Hall, the head of the American Communist Party who ran for president 4 times and served two presidential-sized terms in prison for being accused of advocating violent overthrow of the government.

The newspaper of Maharishi International University is called The Source and can be found distributed for free among the more liberal pockets and communities of Iowa and so as Maureen was passing through the Great Corn State she picked up a copy of The Source and read through it in spare moments on the bus. Not that there was much reading to be done there, as she found that she was developing a form of travel narcolepsy. Despite all attempts to pull her gaze from the window and into a book, she stared out at the road, the trees, the passing fields. No matter how boring they seemed to her, she couldn’t tear her eyes away. Truckers refer to “white line fever”, the sort of daze from driving miles and hours and days and staring at that white line. Within a 15 minutes of moving on the bus, Maureen seemed to fall asleep anymore, book in hand, notebook or pencil buried down into the seat behind her, next to her, or beneath her.

And so she hurtled sleepily across Iowa, counting corn ears like sheep and dozing off fitfully, never fully asleep but not able to stay awake. When the bus stopped in Burlington, Maureen heard a distinctly un-midwestern sounding voice. “Is this seat taken, Miss?”

It had become Mo’s custom to fake sleep as long as possibly, until every other seat on the bus but the one beside her was taken. She was always ready with her excuse if that failed and someone began tugging on her leg, prepared to tell them that she was traveling cross country, was exhausted, and really need to stretch out. But the sound of the voice coming from the aisle, Indian sounding, of course, caused her to bolt up to see who was asking her. Thus caught, she eyed the tallish man with the robes and turban, an extra from Gandhi or perhaps a Beatles video, tucked her feet in front of her and sat up, leaning against the window so as to indicatethat she was still asleep and not really feeling chatty.

Gradually the man next to her, a Yogi of some sort, she assumed, drew her out with small talk. Staccato at first--short quick statements that invited but did not demand a reply. Isn’t the bus crowded today? Is she a college student? From Iowa? What school did she go to. Eventually, it worked and Maureen decided to be sociable. It wasn’t every day you got to talk to a Yogi riding a bus through a run down industrial railroading town in Iowa. She mentioned that she had seen and had been trying to read The Source and asked if he was with the Maharisihi University, which he was. He began talking to her about Transcendental Meditation and she smiled, thinking how ‘60s and wondering what Clark would make of all this. He talked about enlightenment and bliss, the importance of creating harmony. Despite her cynicism, she was entralled by his conversation. He was so unselfconscious and really believe all of these things, unlike most of her friends--and Clark’s--who talked about it, but didn’t really seem to get it. Most of the time it just seemed like a good excuse for them to get stoned so they could “transcend” the world. The Yogi explained that substance abuse was a poor substitute for TM and that the two should not intermingled.

The Yogi, whose name Maureen never asked, talked to her about her social activism,and how important it was to maintain a spiritual balance, lest her work become bland and obligatory, which would be contrary to the kind of world she wanted to create. She nodded enthusiastically, watching his face intently, and began to notice his hand on her thigh. She froze, still looking him in the eyes, smiling, and wondering what to do. She swore she heard Sexy Sadie throughout the bus and looked around several times, but no one else seemed to hear any music nor be mouthing anything going with the words and music in her head. She just sat there while this man in white robes kneaded her thigh and talked about creating harmony and positive visualization and something about using your whole brain and not having a mind/body rift. After a few minutes, the driver called that Des Moines would be coming up soon. This was all getting too weird and so she decided Des Moines would be as good a place as any to get off the bus.

Before she left, he wrote out her name in Hindi and blessed a set of beads,which he gave to her. Getting off the bus, she would have to scoot past him, and then stretch out in front of him to get her bag from the upper compartment, both of which made her self conscious. His hands did in fact end up on her ass as she squeezed past him, ostensibly trying to help her by, yet she was suspicious. Once off the bus, she dragged her stuff into the dinky little bus station of Des Moines, probably a good mile or more from the heart of downtown, and crammed it into a locker. It was 5:15 already and she thought she’d go get some food and see what her next bus option was. She pulled the beads out of the pouch on her backpack and wrapped them around her fingers sort of like a rosary and slammed the locker shut, pulling the red key out and putting it into her pocket. She went up to the attendant at the ticket window and asked when the next bus would be by into downtown.

“No more buses today. Buses stop running at 5:00.”

“5:00! I thought this was the capitol of Iowa.”

“Yep. Everyone works for the government down here. Goes home at 4:30 I guess.”
“Shit.” Maureen decided to conserve her cab fare for coming back after dark. This neighborhood, on Keo Way, whatever the hell that was, didn’t look too inviting. Despite being able to clearly see and walk to downtown from there, it felt strangely isolated, not at all like she had just stepped off into the largest city in the state, the capitol, for cyring out loud. She stuck her beaded hands in her pockets, looked around to see who might follow her, and headed out the door, for the bright lights of Des Moines.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Chapter 4 of My Accursed Novel


At thirty-seven, Clark was finally starting to receive recognition for his work within the department. He felt the pressure to keep up this momentum. Yet, his work was becoming less engaging. He had always enjoyed academic research. Otherwise, he would not have opted for the university. Maureen was wrong to accuse him of hiding behind academia. Writing and doing research was, for him, a way to learn continuously, to connect his life to the past and dream about visions of the future. But now it was work . . . career advancement. Fifteen years ago he had railed against his own smug self-serving professors who had no life in them, the ones who were there putting in their time, publishing for prestige, not because, in his opinion, they had anything to say. Career advancement was not something Clark ever thought he would concern himself with. That was for men with two-syllable names like Michael. Or Robert. Or Charles, who was occasionally Charlie, but never Chuck. Sandy blonde-haired men named Michael who wore turtlenecks and blazers and went to faculty dinners to schmooze and be seen. Burnt out intellectuals with a home on the lake and an office no student was ever invited into. It was not for political radicals and revolutionaries who taught classes on anarchy and social upheaval in the twentieth century. Not for PhD's who wrote about the necessity of dissent in society and had their TAs over for beers on the weekend.

But lately Clark had picked up a new vocabulary. Not one that indicted the intellectual hegemony at the University. Not one that challenged the increasing conservatism on his campus. One of conciliation and peaceful coexistence, as the cold warriors had once agreed to. He knew these people didn't understand what he devoted his life to. It was just a cute childish political theory that he was clinging to for career survival. the Soviet Union had disbanded, socialism was dead. Liberalism as they understood it was dead. The more he started to "move up" within the department, as one of the few remaining "radicals" teaching political science, the more he proved them right.

Maybe it was the final nail in the coffin of the Left. Conservatism's grip was so tight, they could indulge the remaining irrelevant leftists on the faculty. Rush Limbaugh had once said that if he were running the country, it would mean that liberalism had completely died out, but he would want to keep a couple of liberals around in the universities to remind people that they once existed. On his more cynical days, Clark suspected that he fit that bill.

"Morning Clark. Will we see you at the party tonight?"

"Hi, Harry. What party?"

"Remember? Book reception? The Rise of Conservatism? We will see you there, won't we? We're counting on you to provide some lively debate. A little 'point-counterpoint'."

"Oh, yeah. Uh, look, Harry, some things have come up at the last minute. I'll try to make it, but don't be offended if I don't, o.k.?" Clark reached into his office mailbox and looked a few envelopes, trying not to look at the insulted stare of his colleague. He was in no mood today to provide that kind of academic gladiator entertainment. "I'm really sorry, Harry. I'd like to explain it to you, but I've got to get to class. You know how they are. If I'm not there, they'll use it as another excuse to duck out."

"Look, I know you're upset about Maureen. But Clark, you have responsibilities here. You can't just drop everything because you have a broken heart." Clark looked incredulous. "Besides," Harry squirmed, making a tactical shift, "it'll do you some good to get out and be among friends."

"Friends," Clark muttered absently. "Yeah, probably. Look I'll do what I can, but I can't make any promises. I really have to go now."

Clark decided to take some time off that summer for research. He needed to immerse himself in his subject for a while -- just for the sake of the project. He wanted to see if he could get back some of his enthusiasm. He walked into Harry's office with great deliberateness and stood over the desk, trying to convey to Harry the urgency of the projected.

"Well, you know we 're really counting on you," Harry had told Clark when he first heard his request. "A lot of other people already have their vacations and their own study projects planned," Harry said, leaning forward over his desk. Clark was fond of Harry, despite the fact that Harry was a career academic. Maybe even because of that. If Clark saw a younger version of himself in Maureen, as she had contended, he sometimes wondered if Harry represented his future.

Harry had brought Clark into the department. He hired Clark initially as a part-time instructor while Clark finished his dissertation. He had taken a particular interest in Clark's career and had supported him through his tenure application. Without Harry, Clark's career might have been very different. Clark appreciated this fact. But moreover, like everyone else in the department, Clark genuinely liked Harry.
"What's the matter, Clark? You haven't really been with us all semester. Since . . . well, Maureen left town, you haven't been coming to receptions, or seminars, or departmental meetings. Are you nursing your wounds, or is there something else I should know about?"

"No, I think it's just a little burnout. Have you looked at my request for a sabbatical this summer? I really need it."

"I have seen it but it's very short notice. A lot of other people have already put in for the summer off."

"They're just intro classes, Harry. Any Graduate Assistant could handle them. I may not be able to do this much longer if I don't get a break from it. Come on Harry, be a sport."Clark paused and leaned forward. “Why am I here, Harry? Because I’m brilliant? Because I provide a counterpoint to the rest of the staff?”

“Now you sound like Maureen.”

“What’s so wrong with that? Because she is occasionally right, does that make me her mouthpiece, Harry? I heard some kids . . . some students walking down the hall complaining about how much money they pay to go here and they can’t even get their professor’s attention. Is that why we’re here? To take their money, or the state’s money, so we can study and do research as if we’re the students?”

“What’s gotten into you, Clark? You know we’re a research university, not just an overgrown high school. What we do when we’re not in the classroom is just as important as when we are. What’s the matter with you?”

“I need time off. I’m no good to those kids right now. What the hell am I doing here, anyway? Nothing I do matters, Harry. Nothing.”

Clark slumped into the chair and stared at Harry.

"Let me see what I can do But if I approve this, you owe me, Clark. When you come back in September, you'd better sparkle."

On June 3rd, Clark gathered together his last armful of mail and walked out of the Arts and Sciences building. The warm air hit his face and called for him to follow it. There was even a scent in the air that brought back memories. He remembered his senior year, exams over, the week leading up to receiving his sheepskin in the dark hot nylon cap & gown. Then, a summer off to do whatever he pleased before facing the responsibilities of adulthood. He walked down the cement steps of the social sciences building and like that 22 year-old, threw his papers across the parking lot. They skipped across pavement and cars like stones over water. He was going to do all of the things he couldn't do 16 years ago.

That night, Clark worked furiously on his research which he had begun during the past semester. The role of intellectuals and artists as mercenaries in the Spanish Civil War, something he had been fascinated with for years. The intellectuals and artists, sleeves rolled up, fighting side by side against an evil enemy, in defense of their ideals. It made his own life seem squeamishly safe and secure. Tonight he felt consumed in his work. He wrote free form for hours, without referring back to sources or meticulously writing down documentation, as he had come to do for all of his "scholarly" articles. He would go back later and fill all that in. Now, he was writing with a passion for the subject, reinventing and conceiving the things he had been studying for years.

Maybe this summer he would spend more time on marches and protests and activities that the department had discouraged. An arrest or an incident, Harry was afraid, would jeopardize the reputation of the department and possibly endanger endowments and donations to the department from successful alumni. But he was on his own time, now, and he didn't have to worry about such things. He thought again of Maureen. She would be proud of his resolve. She would have a million different suggestions of things he could do. She had always made it her job to know about as many different groups and activities as possible, like a clearinghouse for all the campus activists and radicals. She would definitely have pointed him toward some of her own pet projects.

Clark sat up in his bed. there were papers beside him, like a sleeping lover passed out after a night's passion. Half open books had fallen to the floor. He rolled over and looked at the clock. It was 8:37a.m. He flipped the covers off and shuffled to the bathroom. He knew it would no longer be enough just to write about his fantasies or to act them out. For 15 years he had read about men and women of action, while he merely talked about it. While he told others about their exploits. He had infiltrated the system, as he once put it. But had he brought anyone else in there? Had he really changed anything, they way he said he would?

All of the subtle confrontations he'd had over the years were starting to come back to him. And he wasn't feel good-natured about them this time. He was angry at them and angry at himself for seeing it as just good natured debate. The resident radical. He used to revel in the notoriety. Now he was just suspicious of his reputation. He was sure they all saw him as an old hippie, someone whose ideals were cute at one time, but that obviously had not held up in the real world. If they had, he would be the head of the department now, and the world they taught their students about would be a very different one. They wouldn't be discussing the Gulf War or the notion that dissent was bad for morale. That distasteful theory of General Westmoreland's, actually blaming the dragging out of the Viet Nam war on the protesters and their effect on troop morale, had become an accepted part of the country's attitude toward war. If the hippies and the peace protesters had accomplished anything at all, it would be this theory, that was seen as an anachronism. Not the peace movement itself.

He remembered Maureen coming in, shaking but exhilarated, throwing her banner down on the floor and slamming her body into a chair at the kitchen table to begin writing a letter to the editor. "They almost beat the shit out of us. Three women. The fuckers."

"What? Are you ok?"

"Yeah. We showed up at their little 'Support the Troops' rally."


"Yeah, well, we almost chickened out. We sat at McDonald's and talked about it. It was scary. There were at least 50 people there. But we decided to tough it out." She started to laugh as the absurd memories came to the surface. "They were really friendly to us at first. Then we unrolled our banner and eventually someone stepped off the curb to read it and all hell broke loose."

"What did it say?"

"Same things as theirs, only a little different. Support the Troops. Bring them home alive."

Clark put his arms around Maureen who was scratching out a letter to the editor, pausing periodically to give him the details of the day. After someone had noticed the content of their banner, which was draped over an American flag, things got very heated. The three women--Maureen, her friend Cindy, slightly younger, 19 and barely 5 feet tall, and Donna, a woman slightly older than Clark, an original Sixties Radical they knew from the peace coalition--vainly tried to discuss their feelings with the pro-war protesters. Before they knew it, the three women were surrounded by a crowd. Donna was wrapped up, mummified in the flag, and the crowd was becoming increasingly angry and hostile. People were spitting on them and contesting their right to be associating an American flag with their banner. "That could be me," one young woman shouted angrily. "All the more reason," Maureen told Clark, "that you'd think she'd want this stupid thing stopped. Is this what equality brings us? To be equally stupid in our blind patriotism. Is this what I've been marching with the feminists for?"

"Baby steps." Clark rubbed Maureen's shoulders. They were tight like rubber bands stretched to the breaking point. She sat back in her chair for a moment and relaxed her back. Then, the tension broken, she snapped back forward to the paper in front of her. Then she got up and started pacing.

"Fuck that. Anyway we thought for sure these rednecks were going to beat us up. And the whole time, there was some guy there with a camera on us. Just us. I don't know. It wasn't a media camera. Police? FBI? Thank God someone stepped in and calmed it down a little bit. I don't even think about what could have happened. And then . . ." Maureen whipped around, pointing to Clark, "do you think the cops are any help? We've been assaulted. Assaulted. Three women and a mob of mostly men, and do you think they'll let us file a complaint? Hell no. We went back to Donna's house for a while and called the media to see if we could get some photos to corroborate. But, no, just as bad as the cops."

The last of a dying breed. He sometimes thought he saw amused nods and smiles when he began talking about his field. After all, it wasn't serious politics, the way you could talk about the Russian Revolution, or the Bill of Rights. It was all theory and idealism. Even the Russian Revolution had fallen apart. The Left was just a charming idealist anachronism, it's danger dismantled like an obsolete missile, or a memento brick left over from the Berlin Wall. And how could he argue with that? If they had succeeded, Maureen would not have had to go through that. She wouldn't have been still fighting the same battles Clark and his friends, and Donna and her friends, had already fought in their youths.

Clark looked at himself in the mirror. He looked like every other aging hippie professor at the damn university. Shoulder-length auburn hair. Trimmed beard with just a little bit of conspicuous shagginess to it so as not to look too groomed. Jeans and worn tennies with a tan sportcoat to dress it up. He pulled a pair of scissors and his razor out of the drawer and took a deep breath. He cut his beard and his hair down as close as he could, as large chunks of hair began falling to the floor. As more and more of his bare head began to appear, he found himself hoping that his skull was not too oddly-shaped, as he would have to live with this for quite some time. The razor buzzed and his skin tingled, shaving his face closer and touching up his nearly bald scalp.

Then he walked to the kitchen in his underwear, foraging for food he wouldn't have to prepare. He felt a restlessness that he didn't know how to cope with it. A call to action, but with nothing to be done. he needed to get out of the house. Do something different. Whatever that was. He gave up on any foraging to be accomplished in the kitchen. He returned to the bedroom, pulling on the pants and t-shirt he had left huddled in a pile a few hours earlier. He grabbed a backpack and some notebooks and headed out the door.

Down the street was a coffee shop. Clark had always meant to spend more time there, but never got around to it. He was not a neighborhood regular. Most of his coffee had come from the vending machine down the hall from his office. He walked toward the cafe now, stopping along the way to get a paper from a newsbox. He looked at the people around him. Many were street people who came in during the day to shake of the heat and have a place to sit for a little while, until the waitress kicked them out, anyway. Buoyed by his new life and his new resolve to do the right thing, he told the waitress, "Breakfast for everyone. I'm buying." It felt good. It fit with his new resolve about what he was going to become. Ironic that it was Maureen who had brought about this change in him and now she wasn't here to see it.

In his mind, it was always the fight that had ended it. The Last Straw Fight that so many couples have. Until then, everything seemed ok to him. Just a little creative tension. Romantically flawed, but the complemented each other. At least, he'd thought so. But maybe that was the root difference. Where he saw creative tension, intellectual differences among well-meaning people, she saw co-option. It still surprised him that she usually managed to maintain herself without coming across as too rigid or self-righteous. She challenged people to be more, without indicting them for what they already were.

Except, of course, for Clark. There were different standards for the people she was closest to. Of her brothers and sisters in arms she expected more. Purity, honesty. Anything else was too damaging to the work that had to be done. But for ordinary people, for the people she talked to on the street, like the ones in this coffee shop, she had compassion and kindness. She believed that they were on her side, but they just didn't know it.

"Listen to them on the bus. In the cafeteria. Are you that removed from everyone but your students?"

Clark had to admit, his students did not fill him with great hope. They were lazy. They were victims of television. They didn't do their work because they stayed out drinking all night.

"How is that different than not doing it because you took over the Dean's office and smoked pot all night."

"Oh come on. You can't be serious. It was very different. We believed in something. We weren't just numbing ourselves stupid."

"You were turning on, dropping out? Anyway, that's not all of us. And it's not the people out there. They hate the government. They want something different. They've just been programmed not to listen to us, because we're just 'radicals'. We don't need to educate them--we need to deprogram them."

Maureen believed in the proles, as they would have been called forty years ago. The ordinary people were not stupid, and in her mind, it was the radicals who were stupid for being so condescending. "Who wants to work with a bunch of people who think they're better than you? Who wants to live in a society that's run by a bunch of removed intellectuals who think you're stupid and lazy. How is that better than a bunch of corrupt businessmen who think you're stupid and lazy but at least sell you a tv or make a movie to take your mind off of it. They can't dance here, so they don't want our revolution."

Clark looked up to find a bill sitting on his table. He looked over at the waitress and smiled, turning over the slip of paper. $128.72. He pulled a credit card from his wallet and laid it on top of the bill, after writing in a $30 tip. Suddenly this picture seemed ridiculous. Patronizingly buying breakfast for the local down-and-out with his Gold Card. Very radical. Even this smallest action took no risk on his part. Fraud. Irrelevant. Dangerous. You're right, Maureen.

He unzipped his backpack and pulled out a notebook. He began making two lists. Everything he owned and everything he felt he needed. Soon, a third column emerged, precipitated by the television and VCR. It was important to keep up, to use very possible avenue to educate oneself, even if it was easy to use them for frivolity and escape. Thus, the first items under the "unsure" column. He tried to be ruthless in his determinations. Car? There was a bus stop right in front of his house. The city had a good transit system. Many people managed just fine without a car.
Artwork? Everyone needs some aesthetics in their lives. Bread and Roses, as the activists would say. He tried to discriminate between the things he was attached to, things that meant something to him, from the ones he had for show to prove his "good taste". Art for company's sake. He listed every book, every piece of music, every stick of furniture he owned in this same way, winnowing out those things he felt strongest about from the things he owned because he thought he ought to.
He walked mentally through the house, picturing each room. A too big house for just him. Two stories. Two bedrooms. A den, extra half-bath, slightly winding stairs. he had bought it when he was brought onto the faculty full-time as a reward for "making it." When he met Maureen later, and she moved in, he was happy to have a nice home to offer her. It was a place they could grow into, with family and friends. There was room for him to work and for her to have her meetings. Plenty of space for files and posters and placards and brochures and fax machines. When she left, a few months now, he tried to fill the space up again, reminding himself that it was his home long before it had become their home. Was he now ruthlessly taking stock of his own life or was he trying to find an excuse to run from the empty space she had left behind? He added the house to the sheet of paper, crossed it out, and moved it to a different column five times before making his final decision.

He had become so intent in this activity that when he looked up, two hours and twenty minutes later, he was disoriented. Was he in the kitchen? The school snack bar? Faculty lounge? He was still in the coffee house, with a hot cup of coffee that had been silently refilled several times throughout the morning. His credit card was still lying on top of the bill at the corner of the table, but with the bill now marked. Thank you. J

"Want anything else? You've been pretty engrossed in that."

Clark smiled up at her. Thank you but no. He gather his things into the backpack, took one more sip of coffee, and left, sent on his way cheerfully by the other waitresses' goodbye and have a nice days.

At home, Clark pulled out his lists and began to pack up the things on his keep list. He went to the store three blocks over to get more boxes. He set aside several rooms for the things that didn't make the cut. He pulled out the phone book and began paging through the yellow pages. Abortion. . . Accounting . . . Arts . . . Attorneys . . . Auction . . . He wrote down a few numbers. It was Saturday evening and he didn't expect to get ahold of anyone. He wrote down some numbers and put the paper up on the refrigerator. Then he went to the stereo and pulled out some music, some anachronistic idealistic music and went upstairs to grab his books and his notes from the previous evening.

Clark rolled over and touched Maureen. They were walking on a plaza among dozens of other people. The sun was shining and the trees, planted among the cobblestone, gave off a comforting shade. Maureen giggled like she used to when they first met, when he said something particularly witty or sarcastic. She blushed the first time he talked about Helen Caldicott's notions of nuclear missiles as phallic symbols and unfortunate terms like Minuteman and hard and soft silos. She giggled that way now, and he brushed her cheek with the back of his hand. He pulled her chin toward him to kiss her, putting his hand on her shoulder, and she stood up abruptly, dashing off into the crowd as if she were completely unaware of him.

Clark chased her up the steps and slants of the plaza, but she kept walking, quickly and with purpose, without looking back. She was not trying to taunt him or even get away from him, but no matter how quickly Clark walked he couldn't catch up to her. Eventually she disappeared completely and Clark stood still, looking around for her, with a kiss still sitting on his lips, wishing for its intended.

Clark got out of bed and immediately began making phone calls. By the next day, he was loading up his "keep" list into a U-Haul. In the afternoon, around three o'clock, as Clark was nearly done, a woman in her middle forties pulled up in front of the house and walked to the front door, carrying a clipboard and a briefcase. Clark invited her in the house and showed her around. She began making an inventory of everything. She tried to engage Clark in discussion about the relative value of each item, but he wanted no part of it. After about an hour, he signed some papers, handed the woman his house keys and said that he would be in touch with her after the auction to collect the proceeds.

"Oh, I almost forgot these", he said, turning around and handing her the keys to his car, a perfectly ordinary burgundy two-door sedan parked in the garage.

"Are you sure about this?" The woman asked him. "Where are you going? Leaving the country or something?"

"Not at the moment," Clark smiled. "Just cutting out the unnecessaries. You know--live simply, that others may simply live."

The woman looked at Clark for a moment, not sure what he was talking about, and then went back to her list. "Well, whatever you're doing, Good luck. Where should we send the check?"

"Ill be in touch."

It was the first and only apartment Clark had looked at -- a cheap, furnished efficiency with the bedroom doubling as the living room. It was on the other side of town from all the other professors, and was also away from where most of the students lived. Only his books and clothes would remind him of his "old" life. He didn't forward his phone or mail.

Clark began to unpack the small moving truck, which was the size of a pick-up truck and camper top. He used the cupboards in the kitchen to hold his books, having kept only a few dishes and pots. He carefully unwrapped a few framed posters and paintings and hung them around the apartment. Taking stock of his wardrobe--tweeds, workshirts, jeans and tennies. He went down to the Goodwill store to pick up some t-shirts and denim jackets--a little less of the "uniform" he had worn for the past ten years, a uniform that had allowed him respectability while still feeling like he hadn't totally given in.

Clark hadn't been on a city bus in years. The following morning, having unpacked the truck, he returned it to the rental agency and walked over to the corner stop. He decided to ride the bus for its full route just to see where it went. He tried to listen to conversations around him. He wanted to see these people the way Maureen had talked about them. There was a mother pulling a crying child onto the seat roughly. "I'll give you something to cry about. Quiet!" A couple of people smelled like alcohol. Clark double checked his watch. 9:43 a.m.

A few students, between 18 and 20, Clark guessed, with heavy laden backpacks, got on the bus. New students always took too many books with them to class on their first day. Clark mused that any other summer, he would be handing out a syllabus right now, trying to keep the attention of 18 year-olds who were still accustomed to having their summers off and who would much rather be playing frisbee at the beach than learning about the differences between communism and capitalism, and who, citing Stalin and the arms race, would passionately deny that it was purely economic theory.
Over the course of the summer Clark rode all the buses just to see where they went. He tried to use the time to sit and think, without feeling pressure to work on his book or be somehow productive with his time off. He found himself in parts of town he had never been in before--housing projects and gentrified GI subdivisions. He didn't always like the people he saw on the buses. At the back of the bus, teenage boys peppered their language with "mother fucker" the way someone might use common pronouns. Young mothers yelled at screaming children, tired from too many trips from preschool to social worker to shopping mall to grocery store. The children would squeal over things they wanted from afar but couldn't have, missing out on toys and candy and everything else their hearts thought they desired. In ten years, maybe these children would be sitting at the back of the bus yelling motherfucker this and motherfucker that.

Then there were the just-too-loud, usually insipid, conversations, the ones that drown out any other thoughts Clark might have been trying to have. He would hold his breath, feel his chest tighten and his face clench, trying not to jump up and scream for everyone to shut up. These were not the ennobled working class Clark had been so passionately wanting to set free. He wasn't sure these people were ready to accept power, to be emancipated.

Clark worked through the summer and his manuscript began to take shape as a book. The direction of the work was starting to change in light of his experiences in the real world. He was starting to think that Maureen was right about him, but it no longer bothered him. Maybe it was all abstract to him, but he was starting to wonder if he could have sustained his belief in freedom and liberation all this time if he had been living this life for the past twenty years. He wasn't sure he would be able to see humanity's salvation in the small, rare acts of insight and decency of ordinary people that Maureen had always lectured him about. He was becoming much more sympathetic to the notions of the Bolsheviks--the idea that a small, organized group of revolutionaries would have to lead the masses until they were ready to lead themselves. Clark's research was now leading him to try to discover exactly where and when it went wrong. The betrayal of the revolution was the problem, not its lack of populism, as Maureen would have countered.

Every day Clark tried to remind himself of the life he wanted to live. He wanted the distinction between his old and new lives to be clear cut. The book was helping him figure a lot of things out for himself, to work out some questions in his own mind. But it was still all theory. Where would it lead him? This wasn't exactly a romance novel, a mass market paperback he was writing. It would be published by and for the same people he had just walked away from. At best, it might become a textbook in a some junior or senior level class. It was just a small puddle jump from the life had was leading three months ago. It was not Hemingway fighting Franco in a Barcelona trench.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Chapter 3 of My Accursed Novel


Clark stood at the sink, silent and frowning. He turned the faucet on and off with deliberateness and force and slammed wet, shiny dishes into the drainer, Not hard enough to break them, but with enough noise to show his annoyance.

"Don't be like that, Clark. I was just saying . . ." Clark continued to slam dunk plastic cups and silverware into the plastic compartments on the counter.

"Clark, please . . .!" Maureen sat down at the kitchen table and stared at Clark as he wiped plates and rinsed them under the faucet. Her father's voice started to play in her ear. She had heard it through hundreds of similar silent treatments from her mother, pleading, "What's wrong? What did I do?"

Maureen tried once more to get Clark's attention. When he didn't respond, she put her elbows on the table and set her cheeks flat against her palms. Her father's voice became more pleading and loud sobs started to come from her throat. She stomach muscles pulled in and out violently and she gasped periodically, trying to take in air. A few times she thought she might choke, not be able to breathe at all around her crying. Her shoulders shook. Clark sat down in the chair across from her. His voice was flat--dead--and showed little concern. "It's just a fight over dishes. Come on, Maureen."

But by now she couldn't stop herself. Clark tried to coax her into talking to him, but she was unable to stop crying long enough to talk. Once she could control herself enough to move, she got up and went to her bedroom. She came out with car keys in her hand and her bookbag over her shoulder.

"Where are you going? Maureen, stay here and talk about it . . . "

Maureen looked down at the floor and the sobbing became heavier again. Without looking up or at Clark, she ducked out the front door. Clark pulled a glass out of the sink and slammed it against the refrigerator with full force. As it shattered, he stepped through the slivers, pushing around slivers with his toes.

Maureen pulled into the parking lot of an all-night supermarket. Numbly, she walked inside and grabbed a basket. She had managed to stop crying, with the exception of occasional sniffles or pulling of her stomach muscles. The muzak overhead was playing broken-heart songs, some original "oldies" and some quieted down remakes of top forty songs. She made her way through the aisles slowly. As she looked at the shelves, she felt disoriented. She couldn't make out the words on the products, or the labels or prices attached to the shelves. The college students, stocking shelves in jeans and t-shirts with aprons over them, paid little attention to her, and she was careful not to make eye contact. She knew what she looked like after an hour of crying. She didn't want to have to make small talk or explain herself to them.
She looked at everything without any sense of desire or preference. Nothingness. But not in the good, eastern way of transcending desire. She felt too empty, too wrung out, to want anything. The music and the bright lights and the sound of her disabled cart squeaking its way down empty, otherwise silent aisles, became too much for her. She abandoned the cart near a frozen food aisle and grabbed a pint of Rainforest Crunch ice cream.

After waiting a few minutes to be noticed at the check out aisle, she paid for her ice cream without looking up at the cashier. He tried to make small talk, asking her about her night, but got only a quiet "so-so" out of her. On her way out to the parking lot she realized that she had no eating utensils with her. She decided to stop by a fast food joint to pick up a spoon and maybe use the bathroom. Once in her car, she tried to adjust her eyes again to the dark night and the bright security lights and the white cement of the parking lot. Her eyes were still blurry from crying, which was not helping the process. Maureen started up the car and drove to one side of the parking lot, slamming on her brakes at the last minute when she realized she had come up to a curb, the same color white as the floor of the parking lot. She backed up and drove up a few feet, trying to find the exit. After several unsuccessful tries, she put the car into park and leaned her head against the steering wheel. She resumed crying, again in the same strong, violent sobs as when she had been at the house, arguing with Clark over whose turn it was to do the dishes.

She couldn't stop thinking about her parents. About the arguments over nothing. The scenes. Her running up and down the stairs, trying to reconcile them after a bad fight. She calmed herself again and put on the radio. Heavy metal. It wasn't her usual genre, but she knew there would be nothing to make her cry there. A little AC/DC was just what she needed right now.

When she got home Clark was asleep in their room. Maureen snorted and felt the blood rise to her head. He wasn't enough concerned enough to wait up for her. She sat down on the end of the bed, near his feet. She fought against the urge to throw herself on him and start slapping him. Instead, she leaned over and shook his leg gently. "Clark?"

Clark stirred and she shook his leg again. "Clark." Clark rolled over and touched Maureen on the arm. "Hi. You ok? Where did you go?"

"Clark, this isn't working."

Clark sat up. "It's just dishes, Mo. Come on. You're tired. Come to bed and we'll . . ."

" . . . talk in the morning. No, Clark. We both know it. It's not working. And it's not just dishes."

"Maureen, not now. Come on."

"If not now, when? We both know that this is not working. I can't do this anymore."

"Do what?"

"Be your 'better half.' I can't fulfill your fantasies of what you wanted to become anymore."

"Is that what you think is happening here?"

Clark and Maureen sat still, looking at each other in the dark. Clark reached for the small lamp near the bed. "No," Maureen said quietly and put her hand out to stop him. "Admit it, Clark. That's the appeal. I'm you 15 years ago. I'm what you thought you would become. I can't be your complement anymore. Some men date their students to recapture their youth, to show that they can still get young women to like them. You . . . you seem to do it to remind yourself of what you were."

Clark sat quietly until Maureen was finished. "What do I say to that? That nothing I do is good enough? We've been through this fight a million times."

"And it never gets resolved."

"That's not my fault!"

"It's not anybody's fault. I don't want it to be anyone's fault."

"That's just another way to say it's not your fault."

"Fine. It is my fault. Ok. It's all my fault. I don't even know why . . . maybe I do expect too much. But this is how I feel, ok? Whoever's fault it is, the bottom line is that we aren't fitting together anymore. If we ever did."

"Don't do this. Don't rethink our whole relationship. I love you. This is just a rough spot."

"Do you? Or do you love what I represent, Clark? And I'm just wondering if maybe I didn't romanticize what we had. It's very romantic. And I've loved it."

"Loved it? Don't speak for me. I love you. Not the it, not the notion of our relationship."

"Then I guess that makes you a better person than me, doesn't it."

Clark started to cry. "Why are you being so cold like this? Do you really mean that you never loved me? You need to hurt me that badly?"

Maureen touched Clark's cheek and wiped away the tear that was running slowly down his cheek. "I don't know what I think. I don't want to hurt you."

"Then why are you doing this? Why are you saying these things."

"I don't know. Maybe I just need to go away for a while."

"So, will you come back?"

"I can't say right now." Maureen jumped up, her speech and movements becoming agitated. "I don't know, Clark! I just . . . need something different. I just need to go away and think."

"I can't believe this. We have a fight over the dishes and now you never loved me?"

"I'm going now, Clark."

Maureen stood up and picked up her bag from the foot of the bed. She bounced down the stairs and out the door. Clark did not chase her down the stairs, which she made note of. He ran his hand through the front of his hair and went downstairs in time to see her pull away. She had taken only the clothes on her back and what was in her knapsack. Probably some books and notebooks, her check book and ATM card.
Clark walked into the kitchen, where the clean dishes were stacked higher than the refrigerator, balanced precariously upon one another. He slowly and carefully maneuvered a plastic cup from the middle of this house of cards and poured himself some milk. He was too tired to work on anything, even to think clearly, but couldn't go back to sleep now.

Maureen would have to come back. All of her things were there. She would at least have to come home and pack, and then he could talk to her. He took his glass of milk into the living room and hunted for the remote. After a few minutes he located it under a seat cushion near the coffee table, where Maureen had been stuffing envelopes earlier in the evening. He settled himself on the couch. His arm straight out, with remote in hand, Clark flipped through channels until he fell asleep, his hand dangling down the side of the couch, and the remote fell to the floor.

Maureen had already been at the hotel two days. She replayed the fight in her head. Her parents. The groups she led. Her job at the bookstore. She shuddered, literally trying to shake them off of her. I am NOT responsible for the whole world, she told herself. Just this once . . . maybe I need to be responsible to me.
She looked at the clock. 11:50. Checkout was in ten minutes. Clark would be in class right now, unless he had called in sick, worrying about her. Don't flatter yourself, she thought. She picked up the phone and called home. No. She picked up the phone and called Clark's House, she reminded herself.

Hi, this is Clark & Maureen. We're out in the trenches. Leave us a message.
Maureen hung up the phone. She felt the bags under her eyes, felt as if she had been crying for several hours. That she had been doing the kind of hard sobbing that made your shoulders shake and your whole body fold up. It had been days since she had really wept that way, but her eyes still held the memory in the extra flesh that swelled beneath her eyes.

She began to pack up her meager belongings and went to the front desk to check out. She walked down the street to the ATM machine and took out $300. Then she hopped a city bus to the greyhound station and bought an unlimited travel pass, then studied the bus schedule to see when the next bus was leaving. She would have to be out of town by early evening, or Clark would probably have tracked her down and would be trying to talk her out of this. She couldn't do this if she talked to him right now, and she knew she really wanted to do this. At 2:15, there was a bus headed for Omaha. She stepped into the snack bar for a burger and a Coke. She sat down at the counter, reading the remnants of the newspaper someone had left behind, trying as hard as possible to find something interesting among the business pages and the sports section until it was time to climb onto the bus.

Maureen ambled onto the bus and looked at the faces around her. Some people were still getting settled, trying to take off their coats, or fit their suitcases into the overhead racks. A couple of mothers were fishing out plastic bags with raisins and orange peels to keep their children quiet for the long bus ride.
Maureen took her backpack off and turned it sideways in front of her as she walked to the back, trying not to knock anyone in the head. She headed straight to the back seat. The back seat was like riding the bus on a sofa, if you could get it to yourself. It sat three people across, instead of the usual two, and anyone who was traveling cross country tried to angle for that seat, so that they could stretch out and sleep when they needed to. The downside was that it was right next to the bathroom, and on a hot day, the smell of the disinfectants could be overwhelming, even nauseating.

She settled in and leaned her head against the window as the bus started to pull away. She felt a know in her stomach. Maybe she should have left a message for Clark. What did he do that was so terrible that she should just disappear like that? She tried to shake these thoughts out of her head, but all she could see was his sleepy tear-stained face, the question over and over in her ear you never loved me? Maureen resolved to drop him a postcard at the first stop they made, just so he wouldn't worry. She settled herself back down and watched familiar streets and buildings pass by for the last time--ever? She kept asking herself why she was doing this if it was hurting her so badly. But she sat perfectly still, eyes on the houses and cars to her left, as tears rolled down her cheek. She brushed them back, wishing it were Clark's hand against her face.

She looked at everything one more time as the bus drove out of town. Buildings were reflected in one another. (Elaborate on description here.) This doesn’t have to be goodbye, she thought. And she knew it wouldn’t be forever. She didn’t know how long she would be gone, or what she would come home to, but she would make her way back.
Maureen missed clark already. As the bus passed the downtown park where they’d had lunch just last week, she wanted to jump up and beg the driver to let her off the bus, the way a squeamish child screams to be let off of a carnival ride that’s become too scary. Maureen fought off the feeling and settled back down into the seat. She breathed deeply and remembered the grocery store three nights ago. She couldn’t stay right now. The panic kept coming back and she breathed deeply and audibly, trying to fight it back down.

She looked at the people around her. The back was full of young dudes. The heads in front of her were all white, curly, manicured. Everyone under 60 was in the last five rows of the bus, stretched out with bags on their seats, like a fence around them, protecting them from seat seekers who would join them further down the line.
They rode past the capitol with its big bald dome head, wanting, really, to be the Vatican or some other mystical center, with an echoed hollow rotunda and its eyelid domes shadowed and outlined with paintings -- cherubs and fleur de lis. There were the ghosts of Clark and Maureen and all the crowds they had joined on the lawn, the invisible monuments that she saw more clearly than the immortalized founding fathers. She tried to remember how many state capitols she had visited. How many times she had stood inside, rubbing her palms on marbled banisters, climbing and descending, dropping banners from the center and raising placards toward the ceiling. With no definite plans ahead of her, neither did she know how many more of these she would pass through.

When the driver stopped for the first meal break of her trip, Maureen picked up a newspaper. She did this wherever she went--large cities or small towns. She shuddered to remember flipping through her own hometown paper, with news of people’s trips, names of those who got to meet the governor or congressman, the mayor’s arrest for peeping into sleepy bedroom windows.

Afraid she would miss the bus and lose what few belongings she had with her, Maureen did not linger in the truck stop, but got her food to go. She climbed back into the coach and spread out her hamburger and fries on the seat beside her, trying to leaf through the paper as she ate. Truck stop food was going to get too expensive to eat all the time. She was going to have to figure out a better way to do this, or her trip wouldn’t last very long at all. As she finished her meal, the white haired people and the dudes reentered the bus. She reached for her Coke, which started to spill when the bus lurched off onto its way.

Mo looked over the edge of its bus as it made its way up the ramp and back onto the interstate. The bus was too tall to be able to see the railing and she became disoriented, looking at the freightyard below which seemed only a tipover or a slippery wheel away.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Many people don't know this about me, but I had epilepsy as a child and thankfully, I outgrew it, although I wonder what the adult implications will be now that I am getting older -- a predisposition to have a stroke (which I believe that I have had already) or Alzheimer's (which runs in the women on my dad's side of the family anyway) or other brain-related conditions that affect older people.

But I was very lucky. I grew up in the 70s and my parents tried very hard to make sure that I did all the same things as the other kids and did not make a HUGE deal about my epilepsy (although it was always there in the background). One memory that stands out is when one of my friends had a roller skating party. My mother had read that strobe lights can set of seizures in epileptics, and she and I drove the 20 miles into Peoria to check out the roller skating rink. She did that so that she could say yes to my going to the party. She could have just said no right away and lived with the consequence of having me whine for the next week (or 20 years). It wasn't until years later that I really thought about the implications of her doing that so that I could go to the party, and thankfully, I was able to thank her for doing that while she was still alive.

To my knowledge, my teachers treated me as they did anyone else. I think there might have been some things going on behind the scenes, which I have come to realize only upon reflection since I have been older. For example, when I first started high school, I was put in the lower level English class, the one that I later identified as borderline "remedial," which meant that I read from an anthology instead of reading Shakespeare, like the kids in the advanced classes. (Little did they know that I had read King Lear when I was 10!) But I paid those things no heed and they never held me back. I showed myself to be at the top of the class and by my junior year, I was able to pick my own classes anyway and after that year, I actually graduated. So if they were attempting to hold me back in any way, they failed, not me.

Most of my classmates knew I had a seizure every once in a while, and they would tell the teachers what to do when I had one. The teachers told them not to tell me about my seizures, but of course they did, including tales of how the teachers freaked out. (That was probably why the teachers didn't want me to know, but it was wrapped in the guise of "not upsetting me.") We would laugh about the behavior of the teachers as well as my own behavior during the seizure, because I would frequently do odd things before passing out. (Once, when we were playing baseball in the backyard, I apparently stepped off base and went to the neighbor's house and started sniffing the flowers.) Sometimes, when we had to do something we didn't want to do, my classmates would try to ask me if I could have a seizure to get out of an activity.l (I of course, couldn't invoke a seizure at will!) It was treated very normally among most of my classmates, friends, and neighbors.

I had no idea about the levels of discrimination that even existed during my lifetime that the author discusses in this article in Truth-Out. We had occasional comments from friends and family members to the extent that they were amazed that I was able to go to college or to do this or that, but I always thought that was just *their* ignorance. I had no idea that these were coming from shared social stereotypes and stigmas. I am glad that I was oblivious to this kind of thing because it meant that I just went about my life and did what I wanted to do at every turn, not feeling self-conscious about my epilepsy, not feeling like I had a "disability."

I graduated early from high school, I have my master's degree and several years toward my PhD, and have never felt that my epilepsy limited my opportunities. Consequently, I have also never felt ashamed to talk about it. I never felt a stigma. I encourage people with epilepsy to not be shy about talking about it. Just tell people around you, hey, I have epilepsy and sometimes I have a seizure, and here's what you do if you see me have a seizure. It's like coming out gay. The more people know people who have "hidden disabilities" or anything else considered "abnormal" by society, the more people see these people as competent, intelligent, creative, funny human beings just like everyone else they associate with, the more normal having these kind of conditions will become.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Travel journals on my way to New York: August-September 2001

Chicago 9:30 AM 5 hours of fitful intermittent sleep

Chicago--where the trains make the streets shake and everyone pretends not to notice. Walk down from the bus depot, down Canal St. which is the coolest name ever for a street I think. Down Jackson. Down Wabash. Too restless to land anywhere. Abortive attempt to eat Jerk Chicken pita and read neighborhood and alternative papers, including the Chicago Reader, the Village Voice of the Midwest. Restless inability to sit still. Abandon heavy spicy gravy meat. Too hot to eat in Chicago. It's always unbearably humid here. People must sweat here even in February. My jeans weigh down my legs, making me too heavy to walk, weightless like an astronaut in a heavy suit, clumsy, unnatural. The food around me all smells heavy, thick, makes me sweat just thinking of it. Completely paranoid that I will get sick--get a cold--out here on the road and be miserable.

The Chicago bus station, rebuilt and relocated in the 1980s, is always miserably cramped and chaotic. Several other people in line with me are headed to Minneapolis and we listen to rumors from staff and other passengers about which buses might leave first--should we wait and route through Madison or Milwaukee? One young man with a Cuban-sounding accent, and I band together to try to figure out the fastest way to get off the floor of that miserable station and on a bus home. It is 8:30 pm and the bus through Madison is not due until nearly 11:00. There is a very short line of people at a door marked Milwaukee. I motion to my conspirator. He holds my place in the Madison line and I jump into Milwaukee. Soon the announcement is made-- Milwaukee, Twin Cities. He jumps in line behind me and we pile on the bus, where we will sit for nearly another hour as others figure this out as well and we pack the bus to 100%+ capacity.

7:30 pm - I can't believe I am finally on a bus! The Chicago Greyhound station is a nightmare. Constantly filled to capacity with lines of people passing through, waiting for connections that never seems to come. My bus left an hour late, but still :45 earlier than the next scheduled bus.

Hammond, Indiana. GI housing and power plants. Towers like giant monsters everywhere. Like those dress maker dummies, only huge, mutant, foreboding. Angry women with their hands on their hips. Haven't been on terra firma since I got on the bus. Interstate 90 from Chicago through this first part of Indiana is like being on the EL trains--the highways are all built above ground like one humongous overpass. But once again, I have waiting out for the less crowded of the 2 buses and have a seat to myself where I can sleep. There are even empty seats on this bus, unlike the one that pulled away 15 minutes earlier, the one everyone was struggling and fighting to get onto.

More power plants. Domes and pools. Indiana must be the Newark of the midwest. Dinner stop coming up in Elkhart, home of the mini-motor home.

Indiana is unimpressive. Good choice to leave Chicago at night. This is the "old economy"--smokestacks and lighted towers. Social realism, soviet style art glorifying the unity of the grime-covered workers. Coalminers or, the other way, glum lifeless apocalyptic future of automatons working beneath a permanently hazy gray sky.

Chicago was delightful. Stretched out and slept in Grant Park beside Lake Michigan.(like the yippies 35 years before me) Felt so GOOD to stretch out after a night scrunched on the bus and then 6 hours of walking.

Indiana must steal or gamble away all of its road funds. This is the worst maintained toll road I have ever been on. What do they DO with the money?

For all of the ugly sprawl of mall areas, the conformist monoculture of chain restaurants and department anchor stores, neon is a friend to both the insomniac and the night traveler. Miles of dark highway with nothing to gaze upon, save for reflected headlights in the opposite bus window and intermittent glances at the moon leave you stranded and suspended, lacking concept of time and geography. Signs of life outside the window, distant from the highway, anchor you, keep you from drifting too far away. It's not quite home . . .

10:30 pm. The Ohio Turnpike. Another new state.

This is much more grueling than I expected. After only a few days, I am already dreaming of home-fantasies of aborting the trip and going to home to her hard futon, messy house, and no groceries.

Managed the coveted back bench of the bus -- 3 seats across-- for the Boston-New York trip. Smell of the bathroom, but room to stretch out. Several tall young men eyed me enviously. The bus is filling up but I am hopeful. There is something sacrosanct, foreboding, about someone already in the back set. I am stretched out where everyone can see me, marking my turf, writing. Not making eye contact, not inviting.

Got a hotel room in Cambridge, the desire for a night in a hotel--privacy, naked time, silent vegetation in front of the television. I have heat rashes all over my body from 5 days spent almost entirely in clothes in hot humid weather. Skin needs air, to breathe. Although there was the brief thrill of public nakedness in the bathroom stall at the Chicago bus station on Thursday changing clothes.

This is only the 2nd of 5 buses that have actually left on time. Go Greyhound and leave the waiting to us.

Spending money faster than expected. ATM in South Station is broken. I leave for New York with 5 cents in my pocket.

Statue of Liberty should add to its sign: Now Entering America. Video Monitoring in Use.

The older man sitting in front of me looks a lot like Gerald Ford with a couple of Richard Nixon features thrown in.

Slept through New York State entirely on Friday. First part of the trip where I had to share a seat, so I shouldn't complain. Very groggy, 3 1/2 hour sleep Cleveland to Buffalo. 3 hours awake in Buffalo waiting for Boston Connection. Awakened every 2 hours for connections, forced to get off bus in some cases. Almost like being POWs, I imagine. Sleep deprived, marched in and out of “holding centers", standing in line, uncertainty of making (being chosen for) the next bus out, crammed in like cattle, loading and unloading your own bas, carrying all the positions you can fit in one or to bags. Obviously, fear for your own life is not omnipresent--unless your driver has substance abuse problems, extreme sleep deprivation like me, or is on a suicide bomber mission. So far so good.

Narcolepsy. Newly developed Pavlovian response to being on the bus. Can't keep my eyes open. Just woke up in Connecticut.

I have become an intellectual nomad--unable to land on anything. Even during my trip, spent most of my time walking walking cities and never stopping. Hard to even get myself to stop and have lunch anywhere--always the feeling there was something better or different or more unique waiting somewhere.


I feel guilty for coming home to normalcy after being in New York. Like I should be there. Like I shouldn't be allowed to forget. The images so clear in my mind already starting to fade, to look like tv re-runs.

I came home terribly sick from the greyhound trip. I tell people I have just been to an underdeveloped national called Greyhound where I suffered inadequate sleep, poor nutrition, etc. You've already read the refugee/pow comparison here.

I sleep constantly. After 12 hours awake I'm completely exhausted. Can't tell if it's depression or from the trip. I've finally started dreaming again, but every time I do, I dream that I am in the middle of a disaster. Last night, I was a school child who saw a tornado. I keep trying to tell everyone about it, but no one believed me and would come in from the playground. Everyone finally saw it and got in ok. I think we were in a fire station hiding from the tornado, although the basement seems to have been the one from the house I grew up in. That makes sense, since we were the only house on the block with a basement and everyone used to gather at our house during tornado alarms. I know there was a disaster in my dreams the other
night too, although I can't remember what nature. Not a plane crash or war, nothing quite that obvious. Only remember the feeling of it.

I'm living in fits and starts right now--I get a burst of energy and start something, but then lose momentum for a day or more. Don't know what to do with myself.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Chapter 2 of My Accursed Novel

CHAPTER: Revolution and Social Upheaval in the Twentieth Century.

Clark put away his books and papers and went upstairs for the night. It was four o'clock in the morning, and he had a class to teach in six hours. He still hadn't heard from Maureen since she had left the previous evening. His sleep was filled with visions of her being pulled into vans or beat up old station wagons by men with cold or wild looking eyes. Every time the phone rang he jumped, terrified it would be Maureen's parents or the police. Or Maureen to say she wasn't coming back.
Right now, though, even that call would be welcome. He could talk her out of that one. He just had to get the chance.

After an hour, Maureen still hadn't turned on the light in her room. With the curtains open, she a view of a giant lighted rodent, a gopher on a pole. She began to jump up and down on the bed, her red spirals flopping up and down. She stopped for a moment to take off her tennis shoes. Then came the jeans. And the t-shirt. In a bra and panties, she climbed back up on top of the bed and jumped some more, holding the remote control in her hands turning on the television and running the channels while she jumped. She had come t the motel room with only the clothes on her back and whatever was in her backpack. She wasn't sure what she running to or from, and so wasn't sure when she would go back. She spread out on the floor, on all fours, and did a yoga cat stretch, arching her back out and in. She sat for a few minutes with her back to the bed, perfectly straight and closed her eyes, but jumped up almost immediately and grabbed her notebook. She had the urge to write down everything she could possibly remember all at once.

until my life falls away and I can float through a world

until my life falls away and I can float through a world

until my life falls away and I can float through a world

I want to sit perfectly still and meditate until my life falls away and I can float through a world where nothing I know exists, until there are no rallies or causes or classes or internships or obligations, no cliques and no one to impress and no one who can make me feel inferior about my choices and my mortal coil which I've never given much mind to yet is asserting itself so much into my psyche as inadequate, as ugly, as not good enough, I want to find emptiness and I want it now.

Maureen had been a student in one of Clark's senior seminars. He was 33 at the time, and she 21. She was just shorter than medium height, with dark red spiral curls and brown eyes. She schlepped to class every day in faded jeans, tennis shoes, more often than not knotted together and slung over her shoulder in warmer weather, a second hand olive drab army jacket, and a new slogan on her t-shirt every day. Emma Goldman. "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." Gloria Steinem. "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle." "U.S. Out of North America". She loved to confuse people, to make people laugh, but also to think. Somehow, she managed not to come across too preachy or self-righteous. Not that she had throngs of apostles. No one had those anymore. But everyone did seem to like her, even if she was unable to turn that sense of goodwill into an organizing tactic.

Maureen was always in motion. She organized anti-ROTC rallies on campus. She led the anarchic shout-down of G. Gordon Liddy's campus speech. She idolized Abbie Hoffman and she desperately want to be able to create something new. When she talked, he didn't just smile reminiscently indulgent of her enthusiasm. She was the new prophet on the block, the one with heaven still in her eyes. The Shaman, whose vision Clark could enter into.

Clark and Maureen kept their friendship at a distance while she was in the class. He wanted no hint of impropriety, and she didn't want the uncertainty of whether or not she had earned her grade. But the spark between them and their mutual admiration was clear. When the semester ended, they continued to get together for coffee. When they started dating, many in the department suggested, not entirely to themselves, that it was something other than an "honest relationship." They accused Clark of trying too hard to stay an "eternal student"-- a way to deny that he was a grown-up and professional member of the University and not just some young person observing the whole process from the outside.

On the other side was Maureen, chiding him for hiding behind safe Theoretical University. He always contended that was reaching young people like her, raising up the next generation to follow her leadership.

"Clark, no revolution has ever been won in the universities," exasperated, her hands waving in the air, conducting her words like an imaginary orchestra. "That;s why the 60s 'radicals' couldn't sustain it. Once they had to live their rhetoric, out in the real world, they couldn't apply it. Look at the Russian intellectuals, the provisional government. The Bolsheviks, the revolutionaries of action, ran right over them. The Bolsheviks were elitists every bit as much as the Tsarists, Clark, but they acted. They fucking got things done. Look at the Spanish Civil War, where the intelligentsia actually did get down in the trenches and fight, and they still couldn't pull out a victory."

"That was much more complicated than George Orwell or Ernest Hemingway running over to Spain with a musket. Besides, they lost, remember? Intellectuals don't always make good soldiers."

"Exactly. Soft intellectuals make lousy warriors. Theory is the death of the revolution, Clark. It's in the coal miners and the workers and the peasants dying for the king. There's no revolution at the blackboard, on the page. . . " She became more animated, slapping her palm down on table, leaning forward and looking into his eyes, as if to hypnotize him into seeing her point.

"Slow down. You don't need to convert me. I'm already on your side."

"Yes. And no."

"What does that mean?"

"Whoever is not with us is against us."

"How are you going to build your movement with that kind of divisive rhetoric? Not everyone can take up arms. We all have our role to play. Revolution with no reason, no theory behind it, is just mob violence."

"It sucks the life out of us, Clark. Don't you see that? We're spread too thin as it is. We can't afford to lose one person to inaction. Theory allows you to sit on your ass patting yourself on the back and saying 'Of course I'm a good radical. I teach about Emma Goldman.'"

In Maureen's eyes Clark was just trying to make his views more palatable to the head of the college and his colleagues across the ideological aisle. As a true liberal, and someone who now had a stake in his position within the University, he was expected to appreciate and understand everyone else's viewpoint. Maureen didn't always find this tolerance reciprocated. And she hated sharing his attention with the receptions and the journal publishers and sometimes even the students. If Clark had been reduced to a charming anachronism, Maureen could feel the eyes of Clark's fellow faculty virtually patting her on the head, thinking "I was 20 once, too". She wanted to stop him from becoming what he hated, what at her age, he had sworn never to become.

"If I don't teach about Emma Goldman, then how will people who come after me know about her. Where would you be if you hadn't had me as a professor?"

"Living with my girlfriends?"

"I'm serious, Mo. There is no shame in what I do. It's important to make sure this knowledge gets passed down. And whether you agree with me or not, it's important that I manage to keep my position in the department. It's important that I be able to teach what I care about."

"But at what cost? Even if you're a joke?"

"Who am I a joke to?"

"Students, other professors."

"Is that what you think? That everyone thinks I'm a joke?"

Maureen slumped back into the booth and sighed. "No. Not yet."

"What the hell are you talking about? I work very hard, who thinks I'm a joke? You?"

"I've just seen it before."

"What have you seen before? You're twenty-five years old."

"Fuck you. That doesn't mean that I haven't seen things. That I don't understand what's happening. You know, it's bad enough I have to put with this crap from Harry and the other faculty, but if you don't respect me . . . "

"Well, Mo, you don't seem to respect me."

"That's not what I'm saying. If you'll let me finish . . . ?"

Clark nodded at Maureen gingerly. "Fine, go ahead."

"I just don't want people to be able to say that you teach one thing and live another. That's all. If you're always kissing the asses of people who work against you just to get some tiny little crumb thrown to you, what kind of credibility do you have to talk to your students about changing the world?"

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Actual travel journals I found while looking through my novel manuscript: Travel Journals from 9/11/01

Travel Journals & September 11th

I underestimated how physically, and consequently emotionally, grueling this trip would be. I also underestimated the travel narcolepsy that would develop, leaving me only 10 minute or so blocks of writing time as I fell asleep very soon after starting to write. Not a GOOD sleep mind you, as buses are cramped spaces, even for someone as small as me, and even when you can manage to get both seats to yourself.
I was tired from the trip and hadn't really had any decent sleep or alone time. I really hadn't even been able to be naked for more than a few minutes at a time while showering at my friends' house or changing clothes in the bus terminal, and I was starting to get a rash from the heat and from always being dressed.

It rained the whole way to New York and I didn't get into town until about 6:00 that night. My hosts and I walked around, hiding under awnings when the rains and winds got too intense, and finally made it to a pub where we could have dinner. As the rain let up, Bob walked me down to the Chelsea Piers and showed me around. I still felt very out of sorts and was anxious for the next morning, daylight, and a decent night's sleep to start fresh.

Several days prior, traveling from Chicago to New York, I had become stranded in Cleveland at 3:00 am when the two buses that left Chitown dwindled to one and we were at the mercy of Greyhound company. On the way from Boston to New York, I scribbled something to the effect that riding the Greyhound was like being a refugee. You were dragged off the bus in the middle of the night with all of your possessions, you were given no information about your fate or when you might be able to leave, you were malnourished--you didn't DARE leave the station for food and were therefore depending on vendables or possibly the Greyhound cafeteria. The only difference between a Greyhound passenger and a refugee was that you didn't fear for your life--unless your driver was depressed or a suicide bomber.

Even now, six days later, I can't believe it.

I keep waking up thinking it never happened. I have probably 30 pages of notes, a head full of images I can't sort out that keep coming back to me. My best friend asks me if I am having nightmares. I say no, I haven't dreamed in days. The most shocking symptom to me is how belligerent I feel. I have no patience for whining or complaining about anything. I have the trump card. A pass. The thing that sends me to the front of the line every time. "I was there when it happened." Everyone knows what that means.

For the next hour we are glued to the television. We can only get one station. The frightening events unfoldlike everyone else in the country, we wonder how widespread the attack is; how many more planes, how many more cities will be affected. Everyone is frozen in front of the television waiting for more news.

We run back and forth between the close-up shots on television and the full eyewitness account we have by leaning out and looking down Sixth Avenue.
I finally decide that it's time to stop seeing it on television and head down to the site to try to make it more real and to try to understand. So within 15 minutes I am dressed and head out the door.

Hoards of people are walking slowly toward downtown. The streets are largely taken over by pedestrians who gather together spontaneously around car radios and portable televisions. We stand together and watch or listen to a few minutes of news and then move on to the next block, all on our pilgrimage to get as close to the site as possible.

There are lines at all the pay phones; cell phones are working only sporadically. I walk down a side street between Fifth and Sixth avenues to a spare phone to call home and come out the other side five minutes later only to find the other tower is also down

As I make my way down Manhattan, there are people outside Yeshiva University saying prayers, the Kaddish I presume. There is no airline traffic except for the F16s.

Hearing them overhead elicits a shudder from me. People look up or run outside to get a look whenever they go by. The closer you get to the site, the more people you see with face masks and wet towels around their shoulders. On the way downtown, one woman sees me crying and stops to ask if I lost someone in the attack. I explain to her that I didn't but I feel overwhelmed by it. She touches me on the arm and smiles. "You're so sweet to be so upset." We talk for a few minutes, she tells me again how "sweet" I am and we part ways.

It seems that everyone in the city has made their way to Canal Street, The first thing I hear is frustration as much as anything. "How could this happen?" "Why didn't they stop them?" Emergency vehicles pass up and down the street, in and out of the site covered in soot and trailing smoke.

I manage to find an open café. On the radio they keep talking about how this is like a movie. They compare it to "Die Hard," "Independence Day." I think how much it is like the news, that there are people around the world who live with a steady stream of violence like this every day. There's not much conversation among strangers. There is some talk about this as the beginning of war, but for the most part, there is silence. This is personal to everyone who witnesses it. The police are tense and afraid as concerns of car bombs start to surface. As quickly as you can make your way a little farther south, they chase you back out. "I can't believe it" is all I can repeat over and over as I hold my hand over my mouth, intermittently breaking into fits of sobbing.

I slowly make my way back up to Chelsea, stopping periodically to peer back. It's been an exhausting day. People are starting to worry about logistics as the sun goes down. How are they going to get home? Where are they going to stay? There are simple black and white printed signs everywhere urging people to give blood. People are being bused to Lincoln Center. United Artists Theater in Union Square is closed but offers shelter for the day to anyone who needs it. Traffic begins to move uptown again. The president observed a moment of silence, but New Yorkers have had an entire day of it. There's nothing to say. It's unfathomable. The streets below Union Square are desolate except for emergency vehicles and foot traffic. As I reach my temporary home, I see several boys skateboard down the center of Broadway.

I sleep fitfully, listening to sirens all night. One lone Verizon truck parked on our block gives me some cause for concern. Is it going to go off in the middle of the night? Each small sound makes me start out of bed. I am more paranoid than I wish to be. I run through all the questions all night. Is it over? Will the subways be safe? What will I wake up to tomorrow?

I am sitting in the McDonald's in Times Square watching CNN and I can't stop crying. I go into the bathroom for an all out weeping before I leave and go back out into the street. "Apocalypse Now" is playing at one of the movie theaters in Times Square.

The mood on the streets is morose. Some people are out and about, but quiet, still stunned. Several people describe the city as a ghost town. There is virtually no car traffic down Broadway, except for emergency vehicles and an occasional taxi. The woman delivering mail says to a man with a briefcase, "Where are you going? This is a ghost town. Nobody's going to work." A young man tells his friends "I can't believe that asshole called and asked me to come to work after what happened." And it feels true. There are the ghosts pouring out of the wreckage, but there are also the living ghosts as well. Everyone on the street is a shadow of themselves. No one can look anyone else in the eye. All we can do is look away, stare off into the distance. In a few days, I will come to understand why Oedipus had to scratch his own eyes out in anguish.

We are still trying to grasp the immediate event, not the big picture. Mary says that I'm lucky. I get to go home, walk away, whereas the people who live there will be dealing with this for a long time. I feel bad about this. She's right--I won't have to be there to rebuild the city or my life. But I will carry this around with me for a long time as well.

The black smoke of yesterday has given way to gray and white clouds. I make my way up to Columbus Circle in Central Park today. There is a bit more bustle here than the lower parts of the island, but the knowledge of what happened is still with everyone. A few people are talking about it, some sitting and reading the papers. Others just sit around, silently, alone or with friends.

Somewhere around 3 p.m. there is a palpable break in the mood. Like yesterday, today is a gorgeous day. The breeze is warm and a little cheering. There are more people streaming out into the streets, activity is picking up. Several people walk beside me and strike up conversations about what has happenedthe first time all day that has occurred. We share our sense of grief and personal loss with one another. "Can you believe it?" are still the words on everyone's lips. The city starts to feel alive again. Later that evening, the restaurants and cafés start to fill up a little more. The mood is not jovial by any means, but people are trying to get back out, trying to feel better.

A 3 year old child who, not knowing what happened, nonetheless understands more than you might think. "Everybody's so sad," he tells his mom. "I'm going to sing for them so they'll be happy."

After dinner with a friend, he invites me to walk part of the way home to SoHo with him. He gets me past the barricades, showing his ID with his address to the police guards, and I am admitted to the military zone that surrounds the area. There is no getting to ground zero, and I don't even try. But even being a few blocks in is strange, eerie. For one thing, I've never had to walk past police and armed guards just to go down the street. The candlelight vigil that began at 7 p.m. is still going on well past 8 o'clock. We stop by a fire station where people are lighting candles and writing messages for the firefighters on the job and the ones who lost their lives.

We go past St. Vincent's hospital where it's a sea of television vans and live interviews, including the local Spanish channel. There are small lights everywhere from the handheld recorders. If there are mourners there, they are not as readily obvious.

Surprisingly, while Midtown is largely closed, the area just south of Union Square, which is on the edge of the closed off parts of the city, is bustling. All the restaurants, cafés and grocery stores are open. Posters of people who are missing are just now starting to go up on light posts and street signs, as are pleas to abstain from retaliation against any of our neighbors.

I am tempted to stay, settle into a café and start writing. But it's getting late and I am now walking home alone. Crime has been minimal, surprising considering the high concentration of police in one area of town. The personal way that everyone there feels about this event seems to have kept most people from indulging in their worst tendencies. I feel safe walking down the street. Still, better not to tempt fate.

By evening the wind has shifted north. As I walk back up to Midtown, the smoke stays thick all the way down and starts to settle in my lungs. It reminds me of walking down the street while people are burning leaves, only much more intense. My throat starts to burn and for about a half-hour I find it difficult to breathe deeply.

Nighttime is the eeriest. Processions of police cars and emergency vehicles provide most of the light among the smoke-filled sky, carrying loads of police, doctors or rescue workers. I decide on a small deli a block and a half from where I am staying. I sit down with a fruit tray and start making notes when I notice a taxi go the wrong way down the Avenue of the Americas.

The scariest thing isn't the sirens. It's when the sirens stop right in front of you.

Police cars wheel around and block off the intersection in front of where I am eating. I pack up my food and notebook and go running down the street. Others are running as well, spewing out rumors as we go. There's a bomb in the subway. Bomb at Penn Station. Bomb at the Empire State Building.

The edge of the quarantined area stops at the end of the block where I am staying. My door, half a block down, is presumed to be safe. The police officer says, "I hope this is safe. I'm standing here." I run upstairs and tell my hosts what's going on, to mixed reactions from the two of them one is nonchalant, the other is hanging up the phone and running out the door. I decide that half a block is not enough buffer and walk down a little further. After 45 minutes I go home and stumble into bed.

I feel weird about leaving, but Thursday was my scheduled time to leave anyway. The place I am staying is small and my hosts have another guest there with whom I have to share the futon, so there is little incentive to stay. I cry in the shower, which appears to be my new morning routine.

The island is open again and the bustle and traffic are back. Taxis are honking and trying to get through. This is the New York I am accustomed to and it makes it even harder to leave just as things are trying to come back to life. There is still great sadness on everyone's faces. Sirens, barricades, police on every corner tell you everything is not really normal. There is a haze over downtown that replaces two days of billowing smoke.

On Wednesday the Greyhound Web site had said to take a train to Newark and catch the buses from there. That's what I'm prepared to do. Having walked by Port Authority yesterday, seeing police and barricades everywhere, I am surprised to call Greyhound and find out that it's open. I drag my heavy bags down there and am further surprised that no one has stopped me or tried to check my bags. I get in line, hoping to make the next bus to Cleveland and all points west, prepared for a day of sitting in line.

There is jubilation in the bus line when we are told that an earlier bus is being brought in to accommodate all the travelers. At 12:15 p.m. I ask someone to watch my bag while I go to the bathroom. When I come out, everyone is running upstairs. Port Authority is being evacuated. Eventually, so is Penn Station, the Condé Nast magazine building and, rumor has it, the Times Square subway station. (The woman sitting next to me on the bus later calls her cousin, who informs her that there were 42 bomb threats in Midtown Manhattan on Wednesday.)

At 1:25 p.m. we go back in and someone immediately screams "bomb" again and goes running up the stairs. I am not budging. There is no bomb, I declare, and I am not losing my place in line again. At 2 p.m., we finally start boarding buses. There is chaos as I try to get information from anyone I can, including drivers, baggage handlers and other passengers. Reportedly, Port Authority has been evacuated three times today, and it seems, once on the bus, that they are trying to evacuate us again. The drivers refuse and people pour out the doors and onto buses like refugees, tired, edgy, frantic to get onto the next bus out. I keep repeating the mantra that I started out on the sidewalk. "I should have gone through Jersey." I Greyhound driver walks past me. I pull him aside and say "Go grab a bus and meet us back here. . . " Everyone on the sidewalk smiles or laughs.

Soon after we get back inside, buses start pulling up to the docks and hundreds of people pour out of the doors in large streams, frantic to get on any bus out of town. Last minute decisions are bein made by drivers about the routes they will take, so you have to ask 3 or 4 drivers if you should get on their bus or not. It is chaos and is straight out of a movie scene. Refugees, again, are all I can think.

I hear the driver of the bus I will be on arguing with someone from the station. "Just get them on the buses. These people are going to riot if we don't get them on a bus."

Loaded up at last, we start driving through Port Authority and toward the sunlight and the street. At the end of the ramp, the bus is stopped and the driver gets out. We all groan. Just keep driving. The driver returns and the sunlight of Manhattan finally comes through the windows and we all take our last looks as we head for the Lincoln Tunnel.

Everyone cheers as we leave New York, anxious to put this as far behind them as possible. I don't want to forget. It's too soon to go back to normal, although I assume all of this will fade in time as all memories
do. I wonder as I leave, if leaving alone will make it fade. Everyone holds their breath as we pass through the Lincoln Tunnel, which is open for the first time in days. Then the collective sigh on the other side alive, our bus intact. There is no other comparison--we have crossed to freedom. It is shocking to watch New York from the Jersey shore as we pull away. The buildings are still smoldering and the skyline is small. Only the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building stand out now.

The next morning, up and back into line to head to Chicago and then home. I call home from my hotel and in the middle of conversation every few minutes, I break into loud sobbing. I can't stop myself. This will be my pattern for the next several days--spontaneous bouts of sobbing.

The man sitting ahead of me starts obsessing about his luggage. I am tired and fed up with problems, delays and complaining. He goes on and on wondering if they have put his luggage on the right bus and eventually declares "this is a nightmare". I snap. "I just got back from New York. This is NOTHING."
The first few days back have been difficult. I feel guilty for leaving as early as I did. I should have stayed and participated in the vigils, or even just been there, continued to be a part of it. I have tense e-mail discussions with my friends, who are also all trying to make sense of it from afar. I try explaining to them that if you can talk about war and the big picture of this, that you are operating from a position of luxury. Having been there, it is just an intensely personal trauma to me. I am still walking around in a daze, unable to look anyone in the eye. All I can do is look away. The first few hours of each day I can think of little else. I'm light-headed and become extremely tired every few hours, as if I have a concussion. It takes me until the late afternoon for anything to be able to distract me.

Back in Minneapolis, life is disturbingly normal. On Hennepin Avenue, people are going to the theater as usual, laughing and having fun, the streets are crowded, and marquees are bright and festive. I do not belong here. I am not ready for this. No one here can possibly understand what is inside of me right now and I struggle to keep from sobbing every so often as we ride the bus, as I look at our very intact skyline, as I listen to people talk about something other than the attacks.

I feel perversely grateful to have been there. This is not abstract to me the way it would be if I had only seen it on television. I know that when I see something like this on the news in the future, my conversations and debates will be on an entirely different level. But I also still feel empty and distracted and do not know what to expect or what I will feel from day to day. Suddenly I can't talk about it enough. I want to stop everyone on the street and tell them where I've been and what I've seen although oddly, the more I tell it, the less I seem to be able to convey.

I still keep thinking it couldn't really have happened, that it was impossible, just a product of my overactive imagination.

There is also survivor guilt. I should have gone down on the 9th as planned and I would have gotten to see the buildings once in my lifetime. I was supposed to have gone down there the day it happened, but I didn't. It's as if I was there, but not FULLY there. I should have been one of those people in the gas masks and wet towels, covered in soot. It should have been me, except for one extra hour of sleep.

Then there are the constant flashbacks. The sounds of sirens set them off. Skyscrapers. Steam coming off the IDS tower later in the fall, sometimes nothing at all but the sounds of voices and conversations and the pictures in my head. For the first two months after I return, I cry every single day.

The dreams do eventually start, and some of them are disturbingly accurate. One morning in December, I dream that I am in Central Park, on a beautiful sunny day, like September 11th. As I make my way downtown, it becomes as dark as night and there is thick billowing smoke. Among dark coal-like ash,. animal carcasses, particularly goat's heads, are being excavated from the site--mad cow incineration scenes meet the World Trade Center. That day, 13 bodies are found at the site--the first in months.

Six months later, I don't want to forget, but I don't dare go back into those memories fully. To have a full and visceral memory of any moment of those four days means touching something that I don't have the strength for. The tears are still just at the edge, particularly when I tell someone I was there on the 11th and they give me "that" look of disbelief. The more I have to explain it, the harder it becomes. But my tears are still a little shallow. I can't continue to sob every day, but I can't let go of it either. I don't want it to go away. I want to turn the clock back to September 10th. I want it to never have happened. But I can't have that, and so I can't give this away either. I weathered the worst of it. I weathered the hopeless feelings, the thoughts of killing myself. It was difficult to imagine that I could ever be happy again or see a point to my life. There were flashes of those thoughts.

I feel irresponsible now. After being an activist most my adult life, I find myself having to turn it all off a little, building a little cocoon around myself. It is never not with me. But I am finding a lot of happiness in my daily life, and have had to keep the focus on that right now, on what is possible and positive. And like my extremely personal reactions that day, have to leave the bigger picture to people who had the luxury of only seeing this on tv. At the moment the best I can do is make a little place for myself and take things as they come, trying not to be overwhelmed.